Another major step in the process of ASEAN integration is going to unfold in 2015 -- the formation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). Since its inception in 1967, ASEAN has strove to enhance regional cooperation to bond the member states together in partnership in dynamic development. Its current 10 member states are aiming at further accelerating the process of achieving economic integration through the formation of the AEC.
The topic has gained a lot of attention recently, though what AEC really means for the region is still unclear. ASEAN is a region with 600 million people, USD 2.3 trillion of annual output, and a mix of advanced and developing countries. I would think this heterogeneity is both a blessing and challenge. Take for example the challenge of ageing population facing Singapore nowadays, and considering the relatively young population profile in nearby countries like Indonesia, the contribution of ASEAN in improving labour mobility can go a long way in alleviating the negative drag of an ageing population on Singapore's growth outlook.
Such regional partnership is likely to improve the resilience of individual members. Similar to the ability of ASEAN in facilitating labour mobility, it can also contribute to the freer flow of capital and investment in infrastructure. But it is also fair to challenge how successful the Association has been in dealing with some growth issues in the region. Environmental pollution is gaining increasing attention but this is also increasingly a regional issue for example when forest fires in Indonesia create smog that envelopes many regional countries. It still seems to me that regional cooperation is lacking in handling the threat of environmental pollution.
Natural catastrophes inflict heavy damages to the regional economies every year. I've heard many proposals over the years that some regional funding arrangements can be established to improve the financing of reconstruction as well as encourage the taking of risk mitigation measures. Yet it seems procrastination is still a dominant force and countries are not seeing an urgent need to set up such arrangements.
Economic integration, capital account and financial market liberalisation are important in realising the potential of the ASEAN region and driving further improvement in people's livelihoods. But to build "a community of caring societies", as is the stated objective ASEAN, the Association should try harder in areas like improving the region's resilience against natural disasters, enhancing food securities and improving the provision of availability of medical/healthcare. ASEAN as a powerful organisation can certainly meet these challenges.
Category: Funding longer lives, Climate/natural disasters: Climate change, Disaster risk, Pollution, Resilience, Other